The Iphigenia of Greek mythical lore was sacrificed to the gods by her father as a bribe for calm waters in their naval battle against Troy. Breaking with the staging traditions of Euripides and Racine, in this stunning reimagining, designer Haley Grindle swaps the strophe for a strobe light. A mesmeric figure with her hair scraped back severely in a scrunchie, Effie (Sophie Melville) welcomes us into her world.
“Roll up, roll up!” She initially gets off on disconcerting us, leering at us as voyeurs of her drunken, jaunty disarray. But it’s actually a structured chaos: drink, rave, shag, repeat — a carefully crafted routine which all goes tits up when she swaps her diamond-hard street-smarts for unexpected love: a totally transformative one-night-stand leaves her with a sense of feeling, “no longer alone.”
We’re the confidante who’s let in on every minute emotional shift. Melville pulls us down with her by our heartstrings to vomit onto the floor of Chicken Cottage, and into bed with an ex-soldier who’s had his leg blown off in a bombing accident. All at once, and radiant with oxytocin, Effie is repurposed as someone with something to lose: “Making Lee better is what I am for.”
Melville and director Rachel O’Riordian have dredged deep within Owen’s script and the resultant heroine is temperamentally versatile, sluicing tragedy through her teeth like a pitcher of watered-down cocktails. She offers us a monologue which soars between the biting banality of a sexy, sharp-witted Vicky Pollard and the unbridled authenticity of Sarah Kane.
In Splott, it’s the men who rock the boat, buy the shots and break the waters: although they all feature only as part of Effie’s narrative, their presence is often toxic, and always influential. At best, they can sell their PlayStation to help father your unborn child; at worst, they can monopolise limited NHS resources, and deprive you of your midwife.
Effie offers herself up as a synecdoche for her generation: Owen’s play is an examination of the consequences of cuts to our healthcare system — all the way to girls like Effie, where the buck stops. It is a call to arms. When Melville slurs, “stupid slut, nasty skank” for the final time, she offers us an exodus as sobering as a WKD hangover on a Monday morning.
Iphigenia in Splott is on at the Temporary Theatre, National Theatre until 20 February. Tickets £20/£15. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.